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I like big books.


Revenge - Yōko Ogawa,  Stephen Snyder Revenge is filled with the muted supernaturalism that is typical of the Japanese horror genre. Subtly executed and mysterious, each of the eleven tales are linked by character, theme and events creating a tangled web of relationships that you can almost begin to anticipate, but tend to surprise you nonetheless. I'm not quite sure I'd have titled the collection "Revenge," although certainly the idea features prominently in a couple of the stories. More profound than the aspect of revenge is the almost universal sense of loss that haunts each of the protagonists. All eleven stories are narrated from the first person. The lack of omniscience plays to the strengths of the Japanese sense of terror where things are suggested, but never shown absolutely in the concrete. (The story "Old Mrs. J", in which an old widow harvests an unusual crop of hand-shaped carrots is a good example.) The point-of-view also roots the reader firmly in the narrative. I was initially concerned that with 11 first-person narrators, I'd have problems identifying with people and lose interest, but that wasn't really the case. There's enough bridge provided between the tales that keeps a sense of flow and builds the volume as a whole toward a realization by the end that you begin to suspect by the time you've read the first few lines of the last tale. It provides a satisfying cap to the story and the brevity of the volume sorely tempts you to return to the beginning to read through again.

Short story is a hard genre to pull off. As usual there are hits and misses in this one, but they're predominantly hits. Some of the twists are predictable and a bit ridiculous, but it's a zany, crazy world that captures the flavor of Japanese culture quite nicely. Readers who are unfamiliar with Japanese tales might find the collection disappointing or bizarre, but if you've watched your fair share of movies like The Ring or The Grudge or are even passingly familiar with Japanese drama or anime, you shouldn't find it too perplexing. What merits the five stars is the subtlety with which Ogawa handles her characters. Some of the more emotional reactions may seem over-the-top, but they're a lot less heavy-handed than what's typical in American fare unfortunately. Like Stephen King, Ogawa takes the human experience (the loss of a child, the twisted and paranoid emotions of a jealous lover or the mental trial of coping with aging) and embeds it within a world with the slightest whiff of superstition, and not nearly as much gore!

Macabre, dark and short, these are fun stories with just enough head-scratching to get you to read them again. Honestly, I was so pleasantly surprised that I'm interested in checking out some of her other highly reviewed works.